Old School
Rating -

Cast & Crew info:
Sean Penn
Paul Rivers
Naomi Watts
Cristina Peck
Benicio Del Toro
Jack Jordan
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Mary Rivers
Melissa Leo
Marianne Jordan
Clea DuVall
Danny Huston

Produced by Guillermo Arriaga, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ted Hope and Robert Salerno; Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu; Written by Guillermo Arriaga

Drama (US); 2003; Rated R for language, sexuality, some violence and drug use; Running Time: 125 Minutes

Official Site

Domestic Release Date:

December 26, 2003

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Written by DAVID KEYES

The biggest laughs of any gross-out comedy are never those that push the envelope of bad taste, but those that require actors to simply abandon aesthetics and let a script willingly take them across a plain of twisted absurdity. The recent movies of this flavor have lost most of that charm because filmmakers now allow those extremities to completely overtake the stars and their stories. Consider for a moment the hairsplitting perversions of "Freddy Got Fingered" and the overwrought thrust of "Slackers"—certain endeavors like these are so busy lowering the bar of taste that they have little time in putting focus on the elements that cause laughter in the first place. Can any movie in this vein, after all, replace the value of watching the characters of "There's Something About Mary" or "American Pie" get caught up in all sorts of embarrassing scenarios? Hardly. Just as audience's need to be able to respond to the jokes, so do the players who are on screen enduring them.

The privilege of seeing "Old School" lies in its ability to maintain that kind of sensible philosophy. The movie barely makes the effort to be overly disgusting with its sight gags, and there's no doubt that its afterthought of a story serves merely as a prop for the zany shenanigans of its characters. But this is all okay, because the film is funny, delightful, wacky and audacious all in the same breath,throwing its material at us not like an overachiever anxious to get every dirty detail in, but as a patient endeavor that takes time to savor the joy of its whimsical value. There have been better movies than this one in the genre, to be sure, but few (if any) of them have been released in an age when Hollywood thinks that incessant tastelessness automatically equates with big chuckles.

The film stars Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, a lawyer who, at the opening of the film, returns home to find his wife, played by Juliette Lewis, fulfilling a sex fantasy with people she met off the Internet. Crushed, Mitch leaves her to her gang-banging and moves right into a little house just outside the local University, where his two friends Beanie (Vince Vaughn) and Frank (Will Ferrell) are happy to venture when they need to escape their own married lives. Beanie, who owns a business in stereos, decides to throw his best bud a semi-housewarming party but winds up inviting half of the town, a prospect that the shy and quiet Mitch isn't exactly very fond of. The noisy events that play our there, particularly one involving Frank streaking through nearby residential neighborhoods, don't sit well with the college dean (Jeremy Piven), and almost as quickly as the guys are settling in, they are told to vacate the area because of zoning for campus use. The solution: turn the house into the headquarters of a new fraternity.

The premise isn't exactly novel—old slacker men forming a group in which unpopular types are invited to join in—but the thrill of "Old School" is that its characters, no matter how minute or underdeveloped, are quite comically engaging. In addition to the major roles, there's a large black kid who is the unlucky recipient of an initiation prank over the edge of a rooftop, a mullet-bound animal transporter who likes threatening ponies with tranquilizing guns, and a 90-year-old man who thrives on the notion of wrestling with topless teen girls in KY Jelly before he drops dead from excitement. In addition, we even get a hilarious sequence in which Andy Dick, beneath one of his colorful and eccentric exteriors, teaches a class on oral sex to a room full of married women.

But now I seem to be ignoring the most significant element of this film: Will Ferrell, who just left a long gig at "Saturday Night Live," as the raunchy, dimwitted and sometimes incompetent Frank. Ferrell hasn't exactly been one of my favorite screen comedians over the years, but after seeing his outwardly hilarious work here, I now realize it was probably because of the movies he got stuck in rather than the man himself. Here, he emerges as one of the most daring and optimistic men of any buddy comedy of the recent past, his sometimes insane antics as a guy without any kind of head for marriage sometimes being so hilarious that it almost leaves us rolling on the floor in utter hysteria. A scene where he is caught running naked by his own wife warrants chuckles from merely thinking about it, and words still escape the thought of watching his character accidentally get shot with a horse tranquilizer in the neck and not even realizing it.

At 91 minutes, "Old School" doesn't overestimate its plausibility, either; rather than stretching the antics of its stars and their wacky behaviors, it bows out at a respectable running time, giving us some final laughs via the closing credits as well. The movie isn't exactly smart or very interesting in terms of plot—in fact, save the opening premise, there really is none—but the gags are funny, the people who are engaged in them are likable, and the movie they're engulfed in has a soggy charm that cannot be denied. This is the kind of simple gross-out comedy that has been missing from the canvas for far too long.

2003, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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